Briefly describe the work you do.
Our bodies, by design, mark time with each beat of the heart and each cycle of respiration. A sense of time customized for and by each of us. But, for each of us, it will eventually stop. When a loved one dies, we often select remnants from their life to serve as reminders of their existence and our own. These mementos draw attention to the liminal space between the ephemeral and the eternal.
As an artist, I am drawn to these concepts. After my father’s passing of an incurable lung condition, I was inspired to focus on each breath as complete life cycle. The automatic birth, life and death that occurs with each respiration, acts as both material and the catalyst in my body of work.
Frustrated by my inability to slow down my father’s time and enchanted by the sterility of the hospital environment where he drew his last breath, I began to methodically organize creative systems in an attempt to create fragile remnants of the breathing process; humble monuments to our relationship with time and space.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I entered into the art scene as an undergraduate at the University of Northern Iowa. I initially focused my efforts on a degree in K-12 Art Education with an emphasis in photography. Growing up I was a chemistry nerd so the scientific and controlled nature of analogue photography really excited me. But I still wasn’t satisfied. After much persuasion, I hesitantly took a performance art class, then another, and another. Performance stripped away the rules. Unlike traditional photography, it is liminal and non-archival. I am attracted to the ritualistic and poetic potential of both mediums. I attempt to bridge the gap between mediums by devising of performances and processes that harness the physicality of breath and aim to archive its existence.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I begin my process with an idea. Not an idea of what to make (I rarely know the outcome of the work until its complete), but a poetic idea; a challenge. I set up a simple goal and explore various avenues to complete a task. I try to do this in the most simplified and pure manner possible as to not accidentally influence the result via a source outside of my concept.
I have been fortunate enough to find a subject/ subject matter that enjoy that does have any specific requirements for they type of space I work in. Many pieces can be conceptualized and worked out within the space of a small bedroom. I believe that the size of a piece should align with the concept. Making works that live within a personal space strengthens the intimacy of the work as a whole.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
Once the bubble of graduate school burst I found myself treading water while searching for jobs. Eventually I was forced to become resourceful and took on an entrepreneurial role. Relying on my photography background, I started a photographic archiving business for collectors, museums, and fellow artists.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
I have found that the best time for me to make art is in the morning. I often wake up early thinking about a piece i need to finish or want to begin. My compulsive nature forces me to jump right into a project. Many pieces require a durational stamina and commitment which require some precise scheduling. I have also taught myself to mitigate Murphy’s Law. Starting earlier in the day allots me the time to head back to the store to pick up more supplies; avoiding the dreaded late day traffic.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
My work took a dramatic change in graduate school. Previously, I was strictly a photographer. I had been working with a small town boxing gym in Iowa for a number of years, training, sparring with, and photographing a group of boxers ranging in age from seven to 25. At the beginning of my second semester at the University of South Florida my father passed away from an incurable lung condition. I was immediately compelled to begin working with my experience at his hospital bedside and used the documents and imagery I collected in a more interdisciplinary manner as a form of catharsis. As time trekked forward I became fascinated more specifically with the act of breathing and began to focus my work on this system which is so incredibly important that our bodies automatically do it for us. Even though I don’t use traditional photography as a part of my body of work I often find myself attempting to exert control over my process the way a photographer attempts to control his/ her equipment/ environment.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
The relationship I had with my father and his condition set the tone for my artistic interests. My material choice is often decided upon by its relationship with both the concept of the work and its accessibility to the viewer.
When it comes to the style I chose I am heavily influenced by a combination of artists such as John Cage, Marina Abramovic/ Ulay Laysiepen, and Felix González-Torres. I fell in love with each of their approaches to turning a simple moment into a beautifully weighted poetic gesture.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
When I began making art I had always envisioned myself as a teacher. Just making the work wasn’t enough. I was always so excited about what I was doing that I wanted to play professor and have an influence on students the same way my instructors had on me.
I would also like to play in the NHL and be a country singer….if the whole art thing doesn’t work out!
Born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, Corbett earned his MFA from the University of South Florida in 2014 as well as a BFA in photography and BA in Art Education from the University of Northern Iowa in 2011. He currently runs his own photographic archiving business in Tampa, FL while continuing to exhibit his work in major cities across the United States and internationally.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.